In memoriam: Elsa Peretti (1940 – 2021)

Elsa Peretti, the designer known for her jewellery designs for Tiffany & Co, has died age 80

Elsa Peretti portrait from 1975
Italian jewellery designer Elsa Peretti poses for a photo shoot in 1975 at her residence in New York.
(Image credit: Michael Tighe/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

Born in Florence, Italy, Peretti was educated in Rome and Switzerland before moving to New York to begin a modelling career in 1968. American designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo was drawn to the simple jewellery pieces she was beginning to create, and incorporated them into his shows. Inspired by the silver adornments she found at flea markets, Peretti’s clean forms were a tonic at a time when heavily embellished jewellery was the norm. Silver was then an unusual choice for fine jewellery, and the sculptural pieces inspired by the natural world she went on to create for her friend Roy Halston Frowick – flowers, shells, bones – set her apart.

Elsa Perreti in memorian

Italian jewellery designer Elsa Peretti, 1977.

(Image credit: Jack Mitchell / Getty Images)

In 1974, Peretti began her tenure at Tiffany & Co, a partnership which endured for the rest of her life. Her statement pieces quickly became iconic silhouettes in jewellery design, with her ubiquitous open heart and bean pendants characteristic of the sensual forms she was celebrated for. Inspired by the empty spaces in Henry Moore’s sculpture, Peretti’s understated aesthetic became her calling card and her collections Mesh, Open Heart, Zodiac, Bean and Bone, in rattan, jade, lacquer and sterling silver, all continue to be bestsellers today. In the 1980s, Peretti branched out to include pieces for the home in her Tiffany collections, with china, crystal and silver all drawn in her distinctive organic forms.

Elsa Perreti in memorian

(Image credit: Harvey Waller)

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the perennially popular bone cuff. Tiffany & Co partnered with Dover Street Market for the occasion, rethinking Peretti’s original design in a gothic-inspired limited-edition collection characterised by an ergonomic sensuality. Her bone cuff joins her other iconic pieces as part of a permanent collection at London’s British Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston’s museum of Fine Arts and Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.